Overall in society, the stigma of mental illness is lessening yet many employers and employees are still in the dark. In a recent article in the “Corporate Health, Wellness and Rejuvenation” section of Business in Edmonton, this alarming statistic leapt off the page
“More than 4,000 Canadians commit suicide and more than 500,000 miss work because of a mental health challenge.” The cost of untreated mental illness is extremely high when we consider how it impacts the business sector, family life, relationships and quality of life. I heartily agree with Bruce Baker, founder and president of HR ALL-IN when he says, “companies must come to grips with the fact that mental illness is as real as any other debilitating disease, like diabetes or cancer, and deal with the situation appropriately so that productivity risk for the business and individual is minimized as much as possible.” He goes on to state the importance of companies letting their employees know their willingness to help support individuals struggling with mental health issues.
David Grauwiler, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Alberta division, reinforces that “recovery is a better goal [than productivity]. The evidence suggests that the severity and persistence of mental illness can be significantly reduced by early and effective interventions including mental health support, counselling, medication and alternate therapies.”
Whether a person goes on short-term disability, long-term or just takes a leave of absence, think of ways to support them more effectively without judging them. Support systems are proven to decrease the length of most struggles related to mental illness. Think of ways to encourage and support a co-worker, just like you would someone who had surgery and was involved in a car accident. In those cases, we don’t hesitate to send flowers, drop off meals or offer to drive kids to events. Even if we don’t understand what the person is going through, there are ways to support.
Here are a few helpful ideas:
- Don’t give advice. Even if you’ve been through ‘the same thing’ you don’t know how they are actually feeling. It can feel invalidating to have someone say, “Oh I know how you feel, I’ve been depressed too” or “I was able to keep working when I lost my dad.”
- Validate the emotions. If someone shares that they are sad, don’t try to talk them out of it. Let them be sad. If they are angry, there is a reason. Nothing is more invalidating than having someone say, “but you have so much to be grateful for, how can you be struggling?” A good way to respond to the emotions is to say, “I can’t even imagine how you are feeling/what that is like for you.”
- Just listen. Try to listen to what the person is actually saying. Think about how you would paraphrase it and re-state what they have said. This is what we call ‘active listening’ and it is a way of helping people to know that we have truly heard what they are saying and we are listening. Another way to think of it is ‘drive-thru’ listening, re-state the ‘order’ to allow for clarification.
- Offer to help. They may not know how you can help and that is okay. If you are away of specifics, offer to do something that you know they specifically need help with or need done for them. People struggling with mental illness often feel bad and don’t want to ask for help. If you see a need, meet it, even if they don’t come right out and ask.
- Counter the shame by extending grace. There is so much shame surrounding mental illness, even though the stigma is lessening. Be gracious toward someone who is struggling — remember that “but for the grace of God, go I.” Mental illness can strike anyone at anytime, no matter how well equipped you think you are. It is not a sign of weakness.
Here are some less ‘known’ symptoms of depression:
- having more physical pain
- odd sleep patterns, either too little or too much
- increase in weight
- having a short fuse
- you’re zoning out a lot through distractions like Facebook
- you feel blah — flat-lined emotionally
- you’ve stopped some daily hygiene practices like brushing your hair or teeth
- you can’t focus and concentrate
- you have trouble making decisions
- you just don’t care; apathy
- you have lost interest in things you typically enjoy
If you are struggling with two or more of these symptoms, you may be depressed. Consider giving us a call to screen you for depression and start the road to recovery. There is hope. There is healing. There is help and support available. Contact us at Fresh Hope Counselling.